PYRAMIDS, THE SPHINX … & NO INTERNET!

Hi all. In Egypt for another day. Pyramids and sphinx this afternoon. Unfortunately we’ve got very patchy Internet at the moment. We have a couple of blogs ready to post, but unable to send. In case you were wondering, everyone is well and having a great time!

Will update you all properly as soon as the technology allows!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

ROME & “ARRIVEDERCI, PRINSENDAM!”

NILE BLOG 11

Thursday 18 October, 2012

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This Mad Midlife adventure on the Med & Nile is not for the faint-hearted. Talk about non-stop go-go-go! Right now, we’re sitting drinking coffee in Rome’s International Airport (Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino), waiting for our Egypt Air flight to Cairo – and I’m trying to remember what we’ve done over the past few days. (Gasp!)

We spent Tuesday sailing around the ‘toe’ of Italy’s ‘boot’ and up its skinny western coast … pausing briefly alongside a rumbling, steaming volcanic island (Stromboli), and arriving in the busy Port of Civitavecchia before breakfast time yesterday (Wednesday). Around 8:30am we bade a sad goodbye to our floating hotel, the ms Prinsendam, and ‘walked the plank’ for one last time. Hard to believe that 16 days could pass so quickly – and even harder to believe how many stopovers we’ve enjoyed en route: Piraeus/Athens (Greece) … Alexandria (Egypt) … Port Said (Egypt) … Ashdod/Jerusalem (Israel) … Haifa/Galilee (Israel) … Antalya (Turkey) … Marmaris (Turkey) … Kusadasi/Ephesus (Turkey) … Katakolon/Olympia (Greece) … Kerkira (Greece) … Korcula (Croatia) … Brindisi (Italy) … and Civitavecchia/Rome (Italy).

For those of you who like stats, the Prinsendam (with us onboard) travelled 3174 nautical miles … at speeds ranging from 8.5 to 17 knots … burning an average of 60,000 litres of fuel per day … and consuming 350,000 litres of drinkable water per day.

For those of you who like food, the ship’s galley prepared 7000 meals per day. And the dinner menu on our final night included the following mouth-watering options:

Appetisers: Latin-America-Style Gravlax … or Vietnamese Spring Roll with Chicken … or Mediterranean Mezze Plate … or Brie in Crispy Filo with Apple-Cranberry Chutney.

Soup/Entree: Argentinian Guiso … or Shiitake Salad with Sesame-Ginger Vinaigrette … or Scandinavian-Style Seafood & Potato Chowder … or Chilled Pumpkin Soup.

Main Dish: Bourbon Glazed Beef with Grilled Portabella Mushrooms … or Poblano Stuffed ‘Pechuga de Pollo’ … or Wattleseed Roasted Duck with Apricots … or Tofu & Vegetable Korma … or Lebanese Lamb Shank … or Asparagus & Fontina Cheese Risotto with Sauteed Cod … or Sauteed Shrimp Provencal … or Orecchiette with Italian Sausage & Escarole.

Dessert: The ‘Big Apple’ Cheesecake … or Kiwi & Passionfruit Pavlova … or Mohr Im Hemd (Chocolate Nut Sponge) … or Baked Alaska.

It was like this every night – decisions, decisions, decisions. And, if we were still feeling peckish at the end, there was always supper after the show, up in the Lido Restaurant!)

Needless to say, it was hard saying “Arrivederci!” to all this pampering from the Prinsendam’s so-friendly crew – but we managed it (just), and boarded yet another coach for a 90-minute drive to the Eternal City.

Trevi Fountain

Few other destinations compare with Rome. It may no longer be caput mundi (capital of the world), but it’s still utterly unique: 2500 years’ worth of ancient art and architecture all jammed in alongside modern office blocks, aromatic pizzerias, crowded streets and roaring traffic jams.

We headed out onto those same streets with a zillion other tourists (there were nine cruise ships in that day) to tick-off a few sightseeing ‘must-sees’: the bloody Colosseum (that most cruel of ancient Roman landmarks) … the Trevi Fountain (where our coins joined thousands of others) … the Roman Forum and Palatine (from where the Emperors ruled the planet) … and lavish St Peters Basilica (with its precious works of art, like Michelangelo’s stunning Pieta).

Finally, we parked ourselves in the centrally-located Starhotels Metropole for the night, dreaming of emperors, chariot races, lions and gladiator fights …

TOMORROW:

We’re in Cairo – but not for long. At some unearthly hour in the morning, we’ve gotta get ourselves back to the airport, because the next chapter of this wild adventure is set in Southern Egypt. Stay tuned, and don’t change channels!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

KORCULA & BRINDISI

NILE BLOG 10

Monday 15 October, 2012

For some strange reason we continue to be plagued by good weather. We’ve had thunder-&-lightning at night, some of it quite spectacular, and we’ve heard reports of stormy weather, high winds and rain in places we’ve just left. But sunshiny days and pleasant temperatures seem to bless the roads (and seas) ahead of us.

Yesterday, for example, we pushed northwards into the Adriatic to red-roofed, sun-drenched Korcula. Hometown until 1271 of the famous explorer, Marco Polo, this large island off the coast of Croatia is graced with indented coves, rolling hills, fishing villages, and a walled Old Town that’s tucked out on a small hilly peninsula behind round, defensive towers.

By way of something different, we Kiwis went ashore in the ship’s tenders (lifeboats) and spent the morning on a motor-launch … exploring the Archipelago, going ashore on the mainland at Orebic (a holiday-favourite with the locals), and visiting the small town of Lumbarda (on the northeast side of Korcula) where some of us strolled through the vineyards while others of us swam in clear refreshing water off a white sandy beach.

Korcula’s lovely, we all agreed, and we could’ve stayed there for a week. (In fact, we nearly did – our motor-launch broke down, and we enjoyed some extra time on the island while they sent for a replacement.)

Overnight, with our lovely long Prinsendam cruise nearing its end, we turned south and approached the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’, tying up this morning in Brindisi – a city rich in historical treasures, castles and stunning harbour views. Centuries ago, this marked the end of the ancient Roman road, the Via Appia, down whose weary length trudged legionnaires and pilgrims, crusaders and traders all heading to Greece and the Near East. But, these days, Brindisi’s pilgrims are sun-seekers rather than soul-seekers.

Set in the heart of Southern Italy’s Salento region, it attracts visitors with its legendary Roman columns … its Baroque art … its amphitheatre (which dates back to the 2nd century AD, and once held 20,000 spectators) … and its abundance of churches, piazzas and palaces.

But our destination today was an hour’s drive out of town, through rich agricultural landscapes sprouting vineyards forever and olive trees in their millions. The smallish town of Alberobello (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is “nothing less than a fairytale village” (according to the travel-guides) “which will bewitch you with its peculiar cone-shaped houses, called trulli, featuring whitewashed walls and stone roofs, all built without mortar.”

That’s no exaggeration! And we Kiwis spent a very pleasant hour or two, wandering the uphill/downhill lanes, inspecting these weird cones (inside and out), and shop-shop-shopping in the countless touristy stores which lined our route.

Several of our ladies bought ‘topsy-turvy’ dolls (the local toy-specialty) for their grand-daughters. (Ask them about it when they get home …)

PEOPLE NEWS:

One more yellow duck has found a new home since I last reported on the subject:

  • We’re having to change clocks and watches very second day on this trip (putting them forward or back as required) … and Dellas got her times muddled up the other morning, arriving at our pre-sightseeing meeting-place aboard ship one whole hour early. She panicked, thinking we’d all disappeared into thin air or been abducted ­– and thus won herself the ‘Mad Midlife Rapture Award’

TOMORROW:

It’s our last leisurely, cruisey day on the Med. So, while the Prinsendam makes its graceful way along the western coastline of Italy (towards the Port of Civitavecchia), you can expect to find us bringing our travel-diaries up-to-date … writing some more postcards … checking our email inboxes … finishing those good books … or just sprawling out on deck beside the pool, eating, again, still.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

KATAKOLON & CORFU

NILE BLOG 09

Saturday 13 October, 2012

The ‘Midlife Madness’ label is responsible for lots of laughs on the part of our ship’s crew and tour guides – and more than a little confusion. In the past we’ve been mistaken for the ‘Midnight Madness’ group … the ‘Midlife Crazies’ … and (by the Hungarian Cruise Director we had a couple of years ago on the Rhine and Danube) the ‘Midlife Crisis’ group. But yesterday, our lovely Greek guide misread the sign on our coach as ‘MIDWIFE Madness’, and assumed (I kid you not) that she was about to take a group of childbirth-experts sightseeing!

Imagine her relief when we fun-loving Kiwis turned up instead, responding to her question: “Is everybody happy?” with a thunderous “You bet your life we are!”

You’ll recall we started this grand adventure in Greece – right? Well, we’ve been back in Greece these past two days, catching up on stuff we missed the first time around. Yesterday, for example, while the rising sun turned the sky orange-red, they parked the Prinsendam in the small Greek fishing village of Katakolon (pronounced ‘kaTAKolon’) … and drove us 40km to mystical Olympia, ancient site of the very first Olympic Games. We wandered the vast ruins, picturing the temples, porticoes and statues as they were 2700 years ago … the area crowded with athletes, orators, merchants and philosophers surrounding the Temple of Zeus (with its 12-metre-high statue of the god). We could almost hear the roar of 40,000 spectators as (naked) athletes took their marks on the marble starting blocks … we stood on the very spot where, every four years, the modern-day Olympic flame is lit … and we even got to do a lap or two (jogging, walking or hobbling!) in the famous excavated stadium!

Somewhat exhausted after such strenuous exercise, we dropped in on the magnificent Mercouri Estate Vineyard (owned and operated by the same family for five generations)to taste its famous, locally-produced wines. Sounds good? Yep, it sure was … and a short-but-drenching downpour only added to the fun.

Then overnight, while we snored in our beds, the Prinsendam sailed north into the Adriatic Sea and the beautiful Ionian Islands. Corfu was where we docked, and dramatic seascapes surrounded us on our scenic drive through the Old Town, past a fortress, a palace, and lots of elegant arcade buildings. We then drove out of town to the 100-year-old Achillion Palace, built by Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) of Austria, and adorned with fabulous statues and mementos.

Later, to quieten our rumbling tummies, we rendezvoused at a beautifully renovated private villa – where warm hospitality and a traditional Greek luncheon (with ouzo, wine, and more food than you could shake a stick at) awaited us. Oh, plus some live Greek music and costumed-dancing … followed up by a stand-out rendition of Pokarekare Ana by our Mad Midlife Kiwi Choir.

PEOPLE NEWS:

Another quacky yellow duck has been hung around another Mad Midlife neck:

  • On quite a number of shore excursions, we’ve all been kitted out with ‘whisper’ headsets to make it easier to hear the guides. But, after visiting the loo during sightseeing the other day, Brian ‘lost’ his ear-piece, eventually discovering it tucked down into his undies along with his shirt … and earning himself our ‘Down-Under Hard-Of-Hearing Award’.

TOMORROW:

Leaving Greece in our wake we cruise further north through the blue-green Adriatic to Croatia and the sun-drenched island of Korcula (one-time home of Marco Polo). The show’s not over yet, not by a long shot, so don’t go away …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

EPHESUS & ANOTHER DAY AT SEA

NILE BLOG 08

Thursday 11 October, 2012

You might think we’ve seen enough of Really Old Places, but half an hour down the road from Kusadasi (a Mecca for sun worshippers and holiday-makers, and our final port-of-call on Turkey’s western coast) is Ephesus – one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the world. And that’s where we headed yesterday, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (after being welcomed ashore by Turkish dancers).

On the way, we detoured up a tree-covered hillside and single-filed through a tiny chapel built on the remains of what’s thought to be the house where Mary, mother of Jesus, spent her final years. (Wait till you hear the fascinating story!) This lovely peaceful site, forgotten for hundreds of years, is now a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all around the world.

As for Ephesus … well, during its prosperous Golden Years, before its ancient harbour finally silted up (the ruins are now 5kms from the sea), it boasted a population of 300,000, and was a major Greek port, with noble houses, marble streets, temples, fountains, sewerage, indoor heating, a library, theatre and (what d’ya know?) even a brothel!  Ephesus was occupied at various times by various conquerors – and the superbly restored site records a long and colourful history.

We Kiwis wandered down the ruin-strewn Arcadian Way … took a zillion photos of a zillion re-erected columns and headless statues  … ogled the stunningly-restored Library of Celsus … and tried our best to imagine what bustling, sophisticated, day-to-day life was like for the Ephesians, some 2000 years ago.

Then those who could sing (or couldn’t – it didn’t matter) climbed up into the partially-restored 35,000-seat Amphitheatre (where St Paul once provoked a riot by challenging local devotion to the many-breasted fertility goddess, Artemis – aka Diana) … and then gathered down on the makeshift stage and sang Pokarekare Ana (to the applause of other tourists)!

Back in Kusadasi, we were treated to a demo of Turkish-carpet-making (from silkworms to glorious hand-loomed rugs) … before browsing the shops and returning to our mother-ship (parked as she was between two much-bigger giant cruisers).

Which brings us to today, as the Prinsendam made its lazy way through the blue-blue waters of the Mediterranean to the western isles of Greece – in flat seas and 29-degree sunshine. It was truly lovely … about as good as it gets … and a welcome break from all this fabulous sightseeing, all this ancient history, all this oohing and aahing and clicking of cameras.

PEOPLE NEWS:

Two more of our little yellow ducks have quacked their way into eager, waiting hands:

  • We’re not sure what Sid was thinking the other day at Iztuzu Beach when he waded out in his shoes and socks, but we suspect he was suffering delusions of grandeur after our boat trip on the Sea of Galilee – and have awarded him the esteemed ‘Walking On Water Award’.
  • Yesterday, for the trip to Ephesus, our group was split into two busloads – and when it came time to leave, Jan was missing. We were about to send out a search party when she sheepishly emerged from the bowels of the other bus – and was promptly nominated for our ‘Stowaway Award’.

TOMORROW:

We’re back in Greece … and the small village of Katakolon is our gateway to the mystical site of ancient Olympia, 40 kilometres to the east – site of the very first Olympic Games. You never know, we might get to sprint (or hobble!) along the famous stadium!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.